The Kansas City comic book community is reeling from the tragic loss of Jim Cavanaugh, the larger-than-life owner of legendary Clint’s Comics in Kansas City's Westport neighborhood. Cavanaugh died Friday after being injured in a confrontation with a fleeing comic book thief in the store’s rear parking lot.
“It makes you think about how fragile life is,” said Chris Jackson, a friend of Cavanaugh’s for more than 20 years and the promoter of Planet Comicon, the region’s largest comic book and pop culture convention.
“Comic book characters might die, but they get better. That won’t happen with Jim.”
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Clint’s Comics, which is believed to be the oldest continuously operated comic book store in America. The shop was purchased by the Cavanaugh family from its original owner, Clint Murray, in 1975. Last month’s Planet Comicon at Bartle Hall featured a “Clint’s Comics: 50 Years” panel discussion hosted by Cavanaugh.
“Jim was Clint’s and Clint’s was Jim,” Jackson said. “It’s going to be a very different comics community now without him in it. We’ve lost a font of knowledge on comics history.
"There was never a time that I walked into Clint’s Comics and he wasn’t back behind the counter, sitting there holding court with whoever else was in the store, having a conversation, talking comics, talking movie posters, talking books, always talking about the business.”
Cavanaugh, to put it mildly, was a character. He typically regaled friends and customers with amazing tales from his life, all of which may have been true or at least should have been.
“Jim liked to discuss the fact that he was a black belt,” Jackson said. “The first time I met him, he told me, ‘I could kill you with one blow.’”
William Binderup, proprietor of Elite Comics in Overland Park, was a child when he met Cavanaugh.
“I used to buy comics from him when I was 10 or 11 years old,” Binderup said. “He was a pretty large personality, that’s for sure. At that time, I’d never really known an adult who wore a leather vest without a shirt.”
Despite his self-determining macho exterior, Cavanaugh was a nurturing presence to local comic fans and even to other comic shop owners, with whom he frequently shared his soft spot for old comics, movies, TV westerns and other expressions of once-upon-a-time pop culture.
“He was always super nice to me,” Binderup said. “One time he came out to my store to get something and I was listening to Muddy Waters and looking at a cowboy comic, and you’d have thought we were long lost brothers at that point.”
Cavanaugh had a more complicated relationship with Frank Mangiaracina, owner of two B-Bop Comics stores in the metro. From 1998 to 2008, Mangiaracina operated a third B-Bop Comics location just across the street from Clint’s Comics. The direct competition was a challenge for both men.
“I would be the first to admit that we were unfriendly for a while, but we got to be friends after that,” Mangiaracina said. “At Planet Comicon, we agreed to have dinner sometime in the next month."
He added, "The last time we had dinner, somehow the conversation turned to music and how we both liked jazz and had both played trumpet as kids. He told me how one time he was waiting for his trumpet lesson and his trumpet teacher was a stickler for him being on time. But this one day Jim had to wait 10 minutes for the door to open. And guess who was on the other side of the door playing trumpet with his teacher? Louis Armstrong. So he got to play trumpet with Louis Armstrong for a song.”
Was that a true story?
“Well, you never know with Jim,” Mangiaracina said. “But let’s say it is. It’s a damn good story, isn’t it? And it’s a good way to remember Jim.”
Brian McTavish is a regular arts and culture contributor to KCUR 89.3. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.